Amazfit Bip – Two Weeks Later

About two weeks ago I posted about a Chinese Wearable, I’m thoroughly anti buying products that are not directly sold through US retailers, however I figured for the price, and the overall high customer satisfaction score that it had off of Amazon (which I guess technically classifies as a US retailer), I’d give it a shot. This is the second time I’ve done this with products there over the last year or so – the first being a pair of Bluetooth Headphones branded “Popchose,” I’d never heard of them, and honestly still have no clue who they are, however they are to date the best Bluetooth Headphones that I’ve owned to date, miles ahead of the LG Tone set, and about on par to the Plantronics, however the battery is much better… but I digress. This was the catalyst for me deciding that maybe these were okay, and that I should give them a shot. Besides, it has a decent return/exchange policy, and again, the reviews for both customer service and the product itself were very positive, so why not? I was in the market for a new smartwatch, my previous “Pebble” smartwatch (RIP Pebble) was some odd company I had never heard of, and they blew up, so I wound up ordering it.

This product arrived on a Tuesday, and it was Saturday morning before I ever put it on the charger because I wanted to test the battery life a little bit. It was at 81% when I removed it from the box, and after it performed all of the “day one” updates. I installed a custom watch face that has seconds ticking, so that tends to drain the always on display a bit more than the traditional minutes only display. In addition, it continually updates my steps/calories burned every minute, and measures my heart rate every 10 minutes, and I also configured it to maintain a GPS connection as well. Basically, I wanted to set this up to have as much wear and tear on the battery as possible to deem exactly how long I could get it to last without a charge. I took it off when I went to bed that night, leaving it off of the charger, and it remained at 81% when I checked the next morning. I work in an environment where I am constantly moving, and always on my feet (sure, there are some exceptions to this, but for the most part I’m always moving), which means that it will constantly be documenting my motion, and steps. For the first day, it was a really busy day, therefore I was moving an above average amount, it kept right up – to kind of calibrate for my own piece of mind, and understanding before I left for the day – I picked a fixed point, and walked to that place. It was 96 steps by my count, I started at the top of a minute, it took me under a minute to get to my stopping point, so when I stopped, I lifted up the watch, waited for the minute to be up and for it to update my steps, and when it did, there were 96 steps added to my count for the day. I was impressed, I mean I shouldn’t have been, it’s just the device doing it’s job, but the odd company I had never heard of was more accurately counting my movement than my Samsung Gear Fit, or Apple Watch Series 1 ever did.

There are quite a few basic functions built into it as well such as workout tracking, which I found to be simply okay. If you’re running on a treadmill, it does a pretty good job at tracking your heart rate, and calories burned, however you have to use it for a little bit for it to calibrate to you. There is a bit of learning required by the device. For example, when you finish your workout recording, say you’re getting off the treadmill and hitting end, it will give you a summary of what it’s recorded. When you hit next, it will allow you to calibrate the distance ran. My workout only recorded .85 miles on the treadmill, when in fact I went 1.01 miles. It was more accurate the second time that I used it, but still not quite synced with the treadmill from that perspective. Moving on to weight equipment, usually on other devices I can simply select an “other workout” option, where it’ll time me, record heart rate, gauge physical stress from that, and really I use it more just to track time doing specific workouts – this however does not have that option, which I see as a missed opportunity for more people in the fitness community. With that being said, I primarily will run, and bike, and this device has both of those in there, so I’m pretty well set for that.

The sleep tracking is an interesting feature, both my prior Apple Watch, and Samsung Gear Fit had these features, however the battery life was not nearly long enough to actually use there, and this is something that this does a great job at tracking. I’m thoroughly impressed at its ability to pinpoint exactly when I fall asleep, and when I get up, for the latter end it’s usually within about 3-5 minutes of when I actually get up, and as far as I can guess it’s quite accurate as to the time I fall asleep to, I’m not staring at a clock when I’m crashing at night. It shows you how you compare to other users, as it anonymizes your data, and compares to other users. According to the app, I usually go to sleep about 2 hours earlier than the average user, however I’m up earlier than most… and I also sleep better than more than 75% of users! There is something mildly creepy about sharing all of this data, but at the same time, it is nice to be able to see these metrics on my own screens, to change my habits if I’m not sleeping well, and see some data driven results as to how my changes are actually effecting my sleep from a more clinical perspective, and less of a “sure, that helped a little” perspective.

All in all, I think that this device is great for someone that wants a basic activity tracker with a few more advanced features, and does not want to pay an arm and a leg for one of the more main stream devices – Xiaomi is a large company overseas, and this is not meant to detract from that, however in the US they’re a no name, and I likely wouldn’t be prone to buying one of their devices normally… besides, we know about all of the conspiracy theories with Huawei and data collection, is Xiaomi another one that may be collecting data too, and we just don’t know it yet? Probably not, but a lot of people will err on the side of caution. With all of that being said, I do recommend this for someone as their first smartwatch, if you’re not sure you’re going to use the features, or remember to charge it, or what have you. If you have one presently, and are looking for an upgrade, I would say that depends on what you have now, and what you’re looking for. There is an actual watch UI, which is more than the Fitbit Charge or Alta has, but the workout tracking features just aren’t as advanced, so if you want more of a watch, and less of a tracker, this is for you. I would say that this is just a stepping stone to something like a Samsung Gear or Apple Watch if you’re looking for a device that does more, and that if you’re looking to really step into the world of wearables, look into those before you look too much further into these, because you’re going to be disappointed if you think you’re getting something like those, and get one of these.

Getting Started with Pi-Star: From Hotspot setup to Memory Programming

If you’ve been following my page for the last year, you will have seen at least a half dozen posts mentioning the Zumspot. It’s pretty much taken the digital amateur radio community by storm over the last year or so. I picked one up from HRO in Dayton/Xenia last year, had it up and on the air in a matter of a half hour or so – in fact it takes longer to assemble the case to put it in. For those unfamiliar, the Zumspot is a board that’s about the size of a stick of gum, it’s designed to work the the Raspberry Pi (the kits even come with a Raspberry Pi Zero to use it with).

The point of the Hotspot is to get you up and on the commonly used digital voice modes even in areas with no repeater coverage. They cover D-Star, DMR, C4FM (or Yaesu System Fusion), P25, and NXDN. In a lot of areas there is no coverage of any of these modes, less all of them, so for someone interested in trying them out, but not crazy about the idea of building up a whole repeater just to play around with the mode, these are a very cost effective method of getting into the mode, starting off at around $140 from Ham Radio Outlet for the whole Kit. It fundamentally works by receiving your RF signal in whichever digital mode/modes you choose, and transmitting it via the internet to the desired Reflector/TalkGroup/Room you choose.

A lot of people I know that have these have had the occasional hiccup with setup, or memory programming – I can sympathize with that as when I started this, I think I played around with the software for hours before it finally worked. Admittedly I’m unsure if the board even works with other software, as these boards all come with a memory card preloaded with the Pi-Star software, however having used other software such as Western Digital’s with other hotspots, I will say that Pi-Star is a much more straight forward, user friendly interface that, for the average user with no past experience with this type of thing, is pretty much just the way to go in the current digital radio landscape.

Let’s get started!

The first thing that we’re going to need to do before all else is insert the SD card that comes with the Board into the computer – this comes preloaded with the Pi-Star image which makes this easy. From there we can get you set up for wireless Internet connectivity. The Raspberry Pi (any model after the original) has built-in Wi-Fi, so what you need to know is your Wi-Fi’s SSID, or display name, and your password. Once you have that, we’re going to head over to https://www.pistar.uk and the website will look as it does below:

From here, we’re going to select the option in the left-hand column that says Pi-Star tools, and that will give you a drop-down menu, select Wi-Fi builder

It will bring you to the screen below – it provides good instructions on what to do from here. You enter your Wifi information in the circled area, and it will generate a WiFi configuration file that we will the drag and drop on to our Pi-Star memory card, and get the device up and running!

Let’s locate the file that we’ve created (should be in your downloads folder), we’ll drag and drop that into the SD Card that has our Pi-Star OS on it. For this piece simply follow the onscreen instructions, this is very well documented and easy to setup.

Once we’ve done that, let’s eject the card from the PC, insert it into our Raspberry Pi with our Zumspot board attached, and plug in the power! Be sure that you’re utilizing the Micro USB Port labeled for Power, if you’re using a Pi-Zero there are going to be two set right together – the outer one is the one meant for the 5v Power input. Wait about 30 seconds to a minute after plugging in, and then go to your PC/Tablet. If you’re utilizing a full computer, go to your internet browser and simply type http://pi-star however, if you’re utilizing an Android or iOS Device, go to your browser and type pi-star.local – after you click go/hit enter you’re going to be redirected to the “Dashboard”

From here, to begin setup, you’re going to go to the “Admin” button on the top row

You’ll be prompted for a username and password as it shows above – the default is as follows:

Username: Pi-Star

Password: raspberry

The first thing you’ll want to do before setting at configurations is fetching an update for the latest Pi-Star software, this will have any types of stability patches, security updates, etc.., so make sure you click the “update” tab along the top bar. It’ll run its course and reboot.

Once we’ve done our update, go back to the “Admin” tab to get setup! It will bring you to the following page once you select Admin

This is where the confusion comes in – what type of software are we having Pi-Star act as? MMDVMHost or a D-Star Repeater? Well, this I guess is only confusing for those that are D-Star ONLY users, but even if you’re using it exclusively for D-Star, you need to select MMDVMHost.

Below you’ll see the MMDVMHost menu, and it’s here that you select what modes you’ll be using – I use YSF (Fusion/C4FM), D-Star, and DMR, so I have all of those selected as active as you’ll see, and then click apply changes.

Next, you’ll input your Callsign, as this is what the node will need to be assigned to be able to transmit over the gateway, and your CCS7 (or DMR) ID.¬†This post is assuming that you have both registered your call, and gotten a CCS7/DMR ID, if you have not locate your closest D-Star Repeater and see if they’re setup for callsign registration, and go to http://www.dmr-marc.net/ to obtain your CCS7 number.¬†After that you’ll pick a frequency – BE SURE YOU’RE IN AN OFF SECTION OF THE BAND! Last thing you want to do is be in the middle of the satellite downlinks or something, and mess with someone’s Sat. contact. If you’re interested in utilizing DPRS to transmit your location with each transmission, as well as mark the location of your hotspot, you’ll enter the latitude, and longitude of your hotspot, and the location data it asks for below. In order for it to communicate effectively with the Pi, as well as to identify what you’re using over the gateway, select the drop-down menu for “radio/modem type,” and select your corresponding hotspot setup (as you’ll see mine is the Zumspot/Pi-Zero).

Another thing to note in the photo below is that each mode is already configured. When you check the various boxes for the particular modes after your information is in, there isn’t a whole lot else to be done. With DMR, specify that you’d like to utilize the gateway, and enable the brandmeister network, and you’re pretty much good to go. For D-Star you can choose a default reflector to link to on startup if you’d like, or if you don’t want to have it automatically link, just leave it where it’ll default to – should say REF001A and the manual box will be checked, meaning you have to tell it to link to the reflector. With Fusion, you just select a room to link to, and you’re done.

Click Apply Changes, and now, we’re ready to use it! When you save your settings, it should automatically reboot, you’ll lose your connection to the device for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then you’ll be back up and running, and ready to go! Now, it’s time to move on to the radio side..

D-Star with the Kenwood D-74

With D-Star the memory functions can be a little tricky, and while this is likely the most functional mode of all the commonly used ones today, the initial programming with an Access Point is a little tricky – the thing to remember is that we need to treat a hotspot just like a repeater, down to programming with an offset and everything. The kicker is that there is NO offset, so we have to remember to set the frequency shift to +/- 0.00 MHz. If you don’t do this, your memory will be tagged as skip, meaning any time you rotate the dial to access the memory, it will be skipped over in the repeater list. As follows are the step by step instructions for programming the Kenwood D-74. Other radios such as the Icom ID-31/51/5100/7100 all use very similar memory functions, the key point to remember with all of these radio’s is to set that +/- 0.00 MHz offset, otherwise it will not work with any radio.

Choose Write, and you’re all set! You’re on D-Star via Hotspot!

DMR with the CS-580

Programming your DMR HT is very straight forward – all that has to be done is presetting a memory bank for the Hotspot, and programming each Talk Group you’ll likely use in a separate channel. Set the TX/RX to the same frequency in the memory channels, and vary each one for each talk group. With the hotspot, while you can program an “unlink” command, it is not necessary unless you plan on just utilizing as a simplex repeater, every time you key up a new talk group, the Hotspot unlinks from the previous group, and links to the new one automatically. Below are step by step instructions for programming the CS-580 (BFXD HT), your mileage may vary as I only have DMR experience with this radio, and I’m unaware of how the software for the TYT MD-380, or Hytera radio’s works in comparison.

Save, and Write the Data to your Radio… We just have one more step! In a lot of cases the DMR radios that people use are Chinese radios that are cheaper, and not necessarily as clean on the spectrum.. So to accommodate this, we’re going to go into our expert settings, and open up the TX/RX sensitivity of Pi-Star.. This is done by clicking the Expert option at the top of the Admin menu.. You’ll be brought to the screen below:

You’ll be brought to another screen where the second orange line down says “Modem” – this is where we configure the offset sensitivity. We’re going to open that number up from 0 on both to -475 for both TX and RX as you see below

All other data can remain as is. Apply your changes, and reboot, and you’re up and on the air with DMR!

C4FM (System Fusion) with the FT-70D

Admittedly my experience with fusion at this moment is limited to dashboard control, and the little FT-70D, however having just gotten an FTM-400 I hope to change that soon. Fusion can be linked to rooms through direct input or dashboard, however up until recently the FT-70 did not support direct input. Programming is very simple however, be sure that your callsign is programmed into the radio, set the frequency for the Hotspot in your memory as a simplex frequency, and set the mode to digital. Write the memory, and you’re good to go! For the most part that is, from the Admin page on the Pi-Star dashboard you can change the room you’re linked to, and find out what room is which assigned number. When you know the corresponding numbers, you can program those into your radio, or directly input them to link to those rooms. If anybody has more information on programming radios for Hotspot use with C4FM, please feel free to comment.

Write it to memory by pressing F followed by V/M, press it again and type out what you’d like to name the channel, and press again to write, and you’re on the air on the Hotspot with Fusion!

I hope that this has been an informative post, and can be used as a tool for you in the future! And to make it easy to access in the future this will be a permanent link in the menu bar – this will remain a fluid post updated as new information comes along, but for the moment this is as up to date as can be!

Smart Home Transition

Being about three months away from Dayton, and four months out until the next contest, with June VHF and Field Day within a couple weeks of each other, I think it may be time to put the radio talk on hold for a little bit – there’s a lot of other stuff going on! What’s on the agenda? Well – this blog is going to go back to more than just radio – with moving into a new house, sure there’s going to be some radio talk, in fact I’ve started to setup a nice shack area (see below), but we’re also (kind of) converting it to a smart home. We talked about it before we moved in, and had decided not to do the whole smart home concept, but as we’re going along and replacing odds and ends like light bulbs and the thermostat, I’m noticing some of these items have nice energy monitoring features that I really like, so I’ve said screw it, and we’re slowly transitioning over to a semi-smart home. The first question to ask was what ecosystem of smart products do we want to go with? What do we use for our control, and hub? Well, a few months ago I had a coupon for Best Buy, and they had just started running all of the specials on the Eco Dot’s, with the 3rd Generation being $24.99 – that plus $10 off? Sure, let’s get an Echo to play with. A few weeks later Christmas shopping, I bought something that allowed me to purchase an Amazon Smart Plug for $5 – well… sure, I’ll try it. Let’s see how useful it is! I had the Christmas lights plugged into it all month, and it was really nice to be able to go, “whoops, I left them on!” and go to the app and turn them off. In the real transition to the smart home setup though, we’ve begun changing out all of the old incandescent light bulbs, and installing Phillips Hue lights, using an Echo Plus as a Hub. The Echo Plus came with a Hue bulb as well – and I had a 30% off coupon for that device as well. So far so good, and we’re up to 8 lights – 7 of which are Alexa controlled, and one using a Hue Dimmer Switch. One thing that I’ve read is that when you’re getting closer to 20 or so bulbs, the hub in the Echo starts to get a little laggy, so moving over to a Hue hub is the way to go then – with that said, I don’t think that we have that many light sockets in the house where that’ll ever be a worry.

There are a bunch of the smart thermostats on the market, but after a lot of research, finding a sale, and holding a store to their Price Match guarantee, I was sold on the Ecobee 3 lite. The beauty of the Ecobee is the lack of having to mess around when you have an older system. The furnace is about 15 years old, which isn’t all that old, but it’s just old enough where it’s lacking some of the extra wires needed for items like the Nest, or Emerson. The Ecobee provides an adapter kit, so thermostats with four wire connections can be adapted to send power from the furnace to the thermostat that would normally be sent via a fifth wire. This thermostat offers all of the same capabilities of the others, such as vacation programming, scheduling, daily settings, etc.., integration with just about any assistant that you would want to use (Don’t think it’s compatible with Cortana, so sorry to the three people that use that), requires no Hub to function, and is about half of the price of others on the market. How can you go wrong?

I think that this is where we’re going to keep it for now, I’m looking into the Wyze Camera’s, they’re one of the highest rated out there right now, an American company, and their products are only $20, and $30 respectively. For that price, it’s worth trying, but for now, I think we’ll hold back at the pseudo smart home status, and finish getting settled for the time being..

Field Day 2018 is here and gone – W2RCX Club Wrapup

It’s the largest contest of the year! The one with the most activity in North America at least. Though it being a contest isn’t what it’s all about. Field Day is meant to be an exercise in emergency preparation, and it’s a great exercise in communication, cooperation, and knowing what you can do in a pinch. In the last 4 years, we in Genesee County, NY have resurrected a club. While we have a small membership, we all meet the third Friday of each month and discuss amateur radio related events, and topics. Of course our meeting in June, which was a week before Field Day, was related to preparations we were making to ensure that we were ready to be on the air at 2pm kickoff of Amateur Radio’s biggest day in our neck of the woods.

Our station setup was at the Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY. Great vantage point for VHF/UHF communications (which never fully got on the air), as well as plenty of trees for us to run our dipoles, and couple of beams that we had. We operated as 3A, and we had our VHF station as well, in the night hours/wee hours of the morning, our transmitters went from utilizing all bands possible, to two of us being on the air, one running 40m CW, and myself running 80m Voice. At 2:30am, I was working my way through a pileup on 80m Voice, which is a little different for me. I don’t usually call CQ at night, I usually Search and Pounce, but with that being said I thought about how many other people out there are doing the same thing… somebody out there has to be the one calling!

Our setup was pretty much the same as last year, however working with the new location had a few perks – last year being our first as the “new” club, we were in search for a spot for a while, however we were able to use the Genesee County Fairgrounds, which worked great! Up until Saturday evening, when the racetrack nearby started up, and suddenly everyone had to slap on headphones. We had three motorhomes on site, two of which ran stations, one running an Icom IC-7100, and the other running a Yaesu FT-991. In addition, there were two large tents (one is on the other side of the GMC motorhome), one of which also had a 991 setup, and the other contained our VHF station running an Icom IC-9100. In the middle of the site (under the orange popup) was our little Honda generator which was more than enough to power all of the stations with no problem. For HF antennas we ran an 80m OCF, and a 40m Dipole, as well as a RadioWavz Scout, which is good on 10-40. For VHF, we ran a stack of Moxons for 6/2/220, and for 440/900 we had a few beams, however I won’t go into detail for those, as we never got VHF on the air beyond 6m.

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We were able to achieve a couple of bonuses, the first being contacts off of an alternative power source, which we were able to do using a solar charged battery. The second was by making a satellite contact, we were unable to get the initial contact on AO-92, however an hour after that attempt we were able to make a contact on AO-91 (video to come later, still needs to be taken off camera).

All in all we stepped up our game from last year, I haven’t compared our overall contact difference, but I believe that we were able to improve upon last year for sure. We had a few new licensees that we were able to get on the air with, and allow them to experience more than 10m on HF. In addition, though it was nothing like the VHF contest, we did have a small 6m opening to the South, and intermittently to the West, on Sunday morning, allowing us to work Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. I am a little bitter about how many stations simply flocked to 50.313, and solely used FT-8. With how open that band was – in and out, yes, but still open – there should have been more activity than there was.

We stepped up our game from last year, there are some improvements to be made going into next year in regards to station setup, software we want to run, etc., so I guess that means it’s time to start prepping for next year!

VR vs AR – Gamers, Enterprise, and Enterprising Gamers

I’m going to preface this by saying that I love VR. There’s something about video games that you can just get absolutely lost in such as Farpoint, or that singular Battlefront mission where every geek like me can live their dream of being an X-Wing pilot for about 20 mins that’s just absolutely amazing. Video Games, Movies, we all have out little escapes that we like that we can access right from the comfort of our own home. Then we have AR, Augmented Reality, which is a little more dicey, but it’s still really neat. Sadly the best experience that we have with AR it seems (for the moment at least) is still Pokemon Go. I would expect more over the next few years as it has only been a year since companies like Apple announced DevKits for AR.

But both of these technologies have way more to offer than gaming, could you imagine being an assembly line employee, wearing your MS Hololens, or Google Glass, and seeing exactly where, and how your part has to be assembled, step by step, with a holographic outline? Well, you don’t really have to imagine too much as the technology is already in play… at lease software wise. Boeing (in the previously linked article) is toying around with it a little bit, but the fact of the matter is that the data usage is astronomical using networked machines, needing quite a capable wireless access system, not to mention the computing power required. Sure, use within the manufacturing industry is going to be a lot less intensive than gaming, you’re not rendering full 3D, 360 degree worlds (180 at a time, but the other 180 has to be rendered as you move), NPC’s, and whatever else is needed for the particular game, however you will have to render a part, instructions, and likely text displays as well, which isn’t going to be a small task still. What I think of is the potential when it comes to training – you still have someone shadowing to demonstrate company process, tricks of the trade, etc., however with AR glasses, or even just utilizing an AR application on a phone or tablet, you’re able to be 100% walked through, with step by step instructions in front of your face, which should alleviate any question of the actual assembly process exponentially.

I think the real test for this technology is going to be the gaming world though, as a lot of things are. If you can win over the gamers with a solid design, reasonable price, and a peak performance, you’ll be able to win over most anybody else as the gaming community tends to be very meticulous when it comes to new computer technology, and perfection within it. AR maybe not as much – when the calibration of the Z axis within AR begins to finally remain in a stable location, and not continually drift, I think that’s when it will become fully accepted as a daily piece of technology, but until then, there’s still some work to do. When it comes to VR, I believe that technology will never fully get past gaming and entertainment. Sure, training videos could be a good idea with this, but AR is really where enterprise will thrive, VR is too disconnected. In the world that we live in today, eternally connected to one another, for someone to be able to put on a headset and be in their own separate world, it’s not personal enough. We interact day to day, minute to minute, either over the phone, or face to face – whether it be IRL, or via Skype, Lync, WebEx or what have you. We will use VR for our immersive escapes, or for photos, or videos of prior vacations we took, but never any more.

What do you think? Is AR the wave of the future for enterprise, or is that a technology that is going to lay down where it is too?